About 150 students, faculty and community members gathered for “World Trade: Free or Fair,” a panel discussion organized by the UR “Make Trade Fair” campaign, in Hoyt Auditorium last night.
The five panelists tried to “distinguish rhetoric from reality” as moderator and Chair of the History Department Theodore Brown noted.
After an introduction by junior Sam Boyer, leader of the UR “Make Trade Fair” campaign, each panelist gave a six-minute introduction of his views regarding world trade.
“Globalization has become a buzz word. It has attracted a lot of attention and created many divisions of opinions. It’s important to note that globalization creates losers as well as winners, so it is hard for anyone to argue that globalization is [unquestionably] a good thing,” Xerox Professor of Economics Ronald Jones said.
Visiting professor in Polish and European Studies Grzegorz W. Kolodko offered a unique perspective with firsthand experience in economic reform. He held the positions of Deputy Premier and the Minister of Finance of Poland from 1994 to 1997 and currently directs TIGER – Transformation, Integration and Globalization Economic Research.
In a TIGER article, “Globalization and Transformation,” Kolodko defines globalization as “the institutional and real integration of national and regional markets into a single worldwide organism,” and specifies that economic policy “remains essential for economic efficiency and growth rate,” and he repeated this view at the panel.
“When talking about trade as the core of capital flow we have to see it as means to encourage economic growth, as business. The aim is the highest possible rate of return,” Kolodko said.
“Free trade is not to be blamed for the poor distribution of the fruits of growth,” he said. “The cause of this failure is policy making. Results are lousy when economic policy is lousy.”
Attorney and UR alumnus Carl Angeloff and Anthropology professor Robert Foster both agreed that some aspects of current world trade are “dirty,” referring to an impure or corrupt system. The definitions of several other relevant terms, most obviously “fair” and “free,” were in dispute throughout the two-hour event.
“Free trade is an ideology that many people passionately believe in, but cannot define without bringing forth empirical evidence,” Anthropology professor Thomas Gibson said.
Gibson emphasized that nations can only participate in “free trade” if the citizens of that nation are allowed a significant degree of political freedom, and that it is illogical to view economic issues separately from political institutions.
The relationship between globalization and environmentalism was discussed.
“We’re all big losers if the earth is destroyed,” Foster said. “Entire ecosystems are being ruined and we’re talking about the destruction of livelihoods for the sake of major multinational corporations.”
Opposing this view, Jones insisted that overanalyzing business ethics causes adverse affects for young industry. “As countries grow and incomes increase people tend to care more about the environment. Greater trade leads to cleaner technology and it is a gross mistake to tie environmental and labor regulations to trade treaties and small countries have a lot to fear when that happens,” Jones said.
Foster said that students should get involved to change things. “As consumers, there are many ways to [help out], such as the ‘No Sweat’ campaign, or participating in community-supported agriculture.”
Welzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.